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Mystery Annotations in 16th Century Text: Could They Be Shakespeare's Own Notes on Hamlet?

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posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 11:07 AM
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This is an interesting find. The British Library holds a 16th century French historical text that chronicles history that likely inspired Hamlet- that of a Danish prince who avenged his fathers death:


[..]the British Library’s copy of François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques, a 1576 French text thought to have been one of the sources for Shakespeare’s tragedy: it features the story of how a Danish prince, Amleth, avenges his father’s murder by his uncle, the latter going on to marry his mother, Geruthe.

Casson noticed old annotations/notes that had previously gone unremarked, which very specifically point to Shakespeare's play.
The underlined passages Casson found are quite eloquent and seem to be leading to Hamlet's character/plot development.

Casson noticed that faded ink symbols had been made in the margins next to six passages – three of which dealt with the prince’s decision to pretend to be mad in order to conceal his plans for revenge. One of the annotated passages, translated from the French, reads: “It is not without cause, and just occasion, that my gestures, countenances, and words, seem all to proceed from a madman, and that I desire to have all men esteem me wholly deprived of sense or reasonable understanding.”

www.theguardian.com...
As Casson mentions in the article, the section of the text referencing Hamlet's apparent historic source was the sole annotated section in the text. An underlined passage might lend a clue to the time frame of the annotation, which if interpreted correctly would predate Hamlet.

Although the annotations are not dated, Casson believes they predate Hamlet, which was written around 1601, for two reasons. First, one of passages underlined in the book reads, when translated: “The right of succession is a better way (to choose a monarch) than that of election.” “That would not have been an annotation underlined once James I was on the throne [from March 1603]. He had two sons. It would have been of no interest to anyone subsequently,” said Casson. Also, “there is no mention of the play. If you were annotating after the play, you would put: ‘This was Shakespeare’s Hamlet; he refers to this.’ You wouldn’t be coy.”


While I don't necessarily agree with all of Casson's reasoning in the article, I do think this is a fascinating find and could absolutely be from Shakespeare's own hand, when the ghost of Hamlet (and Hamlet's father) first began to swirl in his head.
I would guess that this book was not in wide circulation at the time (not many copies, and few readers) and would like to know more about the history of that particular text before getting too excited


Here's a link to the article Casson published regarding his find in the British Library's Journal.

www.bl.uk...

Thoughts?
edit on 24-10-2018 by zosimov because: (no reason given)




posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 11:19 AM
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My goodness. The proper use and mastery of the English language compared to now.. and that was 1576!!!



posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 12:05 PM
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I suppose Sir Francis Bacon might have written that.




posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 12:10 PM
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a reply to: IgnoranceIsntBlisss

The article linked in OP also mentions Sir Henry Neville as a potential Shakespeare ...


Casson also argues that the annotations lend further weight to his controversial theory that Sir Henry Neville, a courtier of Elizabeth I, was the author of Shakespeare’s plays. Casson has previously expounded this theory in a 2016 book, Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare: The Evidence, and says the annotations in the Belleforest could have been made by Neville. The courtier read and wrote in French, and books in his library at Audley End, Essex, contain annotations using Greek symbol gamma ‘γ’, which resembles the “y” symbol in the British Library’s copy of Belleforest.



posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 12:44 PM
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originally posted by: zosimov
"Although the annotations are not dated, Casson believes they predate Hamlet, which was written around 1601, for two reasons. First, one of passages underlined in the book reads, when translated: “The right of succession is a better way (to choose a monarch) than that of election.” “That would not have been an annotation underlined once James I was on the throne [from March 1603]. He had two sons. It would have been of no interest to anyone subsequently,”

I don't agree with his assumption that "succession or election" would have been of special interest before James was on the throne.
In the sixteenth century, the days when English kings were elected (by the nobility) had long been forgotten. The right of succession reigned supreme. Yes, there was a lot of uncertainty about who would succeed Elizabeth, but the uncertainty was about competing rights of succession.

And if someone else was annotating the book for their own benefit, it does not follow that they would be explicit about their reasons for noticing a passage. They would expect to remember their reasons. Especially if they were going into it looking for similarities to Hamlet.



posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 12:47 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELI

I'm with you-- I don't agree with Casson's reasoning there and elsewhere. But I still think the notes themselves are interesting and worth looking into!
edit on 24-10-2018 by zosimov because: (no reason given)



posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 01:55 PM
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a reply to: zosimov

Cool OP. I love Shakespeare and agree with the 'official story.'


I can see why Casson arrived at the idea of Shakespeare being the phantom annotator. There's a logic there and it's driven by his fascination over who the 'true Bard' was. He could be right as whoever wrote Hamlet may well have done some historical research. I'm sure they did. Alternatively, someone could have been reading it and been inspired to write Hamlet which would be an amusing chicken and egg scenario. Then again, people read books in libraries and some will always leave their marks. Ifs and buts...

Perhaps someone will compare the pen strokes of the annotations with the usual suspects? Casson no doubt will be doing so already. Unless the handwriting can be convincingly linked to known historical figures, I can't see it going anywhere.



posted on Oct, 24 2018 @ 02:22 PM
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originally posted by: Kandinsky
a reply to: zosimov

Cool OP. I love Shakespeare and agree with the 'official story.'


Perhaps someone will compare the pen strokes of the annotations with the usual suspects? Casson no doubt will be doing so already. Unless the handwriting can be convincingly linked to known historical figures, I can't see it going anywhere.



No kidding, seems an easy way to end the query! I wonder if it hasn't been done yet because no one is really taking his theory seriously.



I do wonder though, as this is certainly not a widely read book. Yes, there certainly are people who have searched for references to Hamlet in its original French source, but it's not a popular topic, additionally few modern scholars would deface a historical text, (though it certainly is possible) so it's likely to be much older writing.
I'd like to know if this particualar copy was available, and where it was housed, at the time in question.

I definitely think that Shakespeare read this history somewhere and surely there limited sources. Hamlet is just too similar to the historical counterpart to be coincidence (imo).
Belleforest's Histories was translated from a Latin text (Saxo) written on the same subject, so Shakespeare could have also found the story there.
(More info if you're interested)
internetshakespeare.uvic.ca...
Glad you like the topic!


(I'm of the William from Stratford, official story mindset as well.)
edit on 24-10-2018 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

edit on 24-10-2018 by zosimov because: (no reason given)



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